Standard book publishers receive far more manuscript submissions than they could possibly print, so considerably more proposals are rejected than accepted. Most publishing houses focus the majority of their promotional efforts on previously published authors who already have an established fan base. This makes sense–after all, publishing is their business and they need to make a profit, and proven commodities usually sell better than new products.
If you’re not an established author but still want to have your manuscript considered by a commercial publisher, there are a number of steps you’ll need to take:
1. Learn the craft. Read books about writing and books in your chosen genre, go to writing classes, attend writers’ workshops, look for writing tips on authors’ websites, etc. Study punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling–what I call PUGS.
2. Hone your skills. Join or start a critique group, show your manuscript to members of your target audience, do a lot of self-editing and rewriting.
3. Publish small pieces: magazine or newspaper articles, church play scripts, Sunday school curriculum and/or take-home papers, compilation pieces, etc.
4. Polish your manuscript. Do the best you can yourself and then hire a professional editor.
5. Study the market. What books like yours are out there, and how is yours different?
6. Research publishers and agents, and consider which ones might be right for you and the kind of book you’re writing. The Christian Writer’s Market Guide has an extensive list of publishers that includes details such as which ones require agents and which are subsidy publishers. (Before you seriously consider any agent or publishing house you’re not very familiar with, do a thorough internet search to make sure it’s not a scam, or at least something other than what it claims to be.)
7. Come up with a plan for the types of books you want to write and become known for. Agents and most publishers want to invest in career authors who write multiple books, mostly within the same or similar genre.
8. Design a platform and/or marketing plan for selling your books. Publishers today expect authors to sell at least as many copies of their own books as the publisher anticipates selling through their channels.
9. Network with people in the publishing industry at writers’ conferences and book conventions where you can meet agents and publishing-house representatives and become recognized by industry professionals.
11. Have the proposal professionally edited, polished, and proofread.
12. Send the proposal to agents and/or small publishing houses that accept unagented proposals (and prepare for rejection, because that’s the most likely response).
13. Send the complete manuscript to any agents or publishers who request it.
14. Wait while one or more publishing committees consider your proposal (and prepare for rejection, because that’s still the most likely response).
15. Evaluate the contract before signing it. Have your agent or an industry professional review it as well. Negotiate as necessary/appropriate.
16. Work with in-house editors at the publishing house to further revise the manuscript. (Make sure you meet their deadline for this.)
17. Accept the publisher’s cover design.(Most will not allow you much say in this.)
18. Accept the publisher’s choice of a title for your book.
19. Prepromote your book. Create a website, start word-of-mouth buzz, schedule speaking engagements, do social-media networking through Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc. Consider hiring a PR agency.
20. Carefully proofread the galleys (your last chance to catch typos before the book goes to print) or hire a professional proofreader to do this.
21. Receive a few complimentary copies of your book in the mail (and purchase more at your author’s discount price). This generally happens approximately one to two years after receiving the contract from the publisher.
22. Give free copies of your book to family and friends, influential people, and anyone who offers to do a book review.
23. Promote, promote, promote. Set up book signings, radio and TV interviews, and more speaking engagements, increase your social-media networking, get interviews on other people’s newsletters, blogs, etc.
24. Write your next book.
25. Make a name for yourself as an author who writes a particular style of book so people who liked your first one will want to buy your future books.
Sound like a lot of work? It is! Writing for commercial publication is a career, and like any other profession, it requires a considerable investment of time, money, and effort. And you’ll only earn about a dollar per book sold (not counting any copies you sell yourself or give away). Most publishers these days pay new authors very small advances (if any). And you don’t get any royalty payments until after you’ve sold enough copies to earn beyond the advance.
Knowing all these facts, if this option still appeals to you, I can assist you with each step of the process. I can also help you find other professionals who could help you through my Christian Editor Network.
If you don’t want to become a professional writer, you could hire a ghostwriter or collaborator to write your manuscript based on interviews and material supplied by you. But keep the following in mind:
1. Since professional authors will have gone through all the steps outlined above, most will be busily working on shaping their own careers with their own books.
2. Writing a book-length manuscript requires a tremendous amount of time, which translates into a significant amount of money for the person who hires one.
3. Only on rare occasions will a ghostwriter work with someone on a contingency basis, putting in all the time and expertise required to write a manuscript and pitch it to publishers at no charge to the originator of the book, in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of future royalties. This usually only happens with celebrities whose well-recognized names can virtually guarantee high sales figures.
4. Even with a high-quality, established ghostwriter, there’s no guarantee your book will get picked up by a commercial, royalty-paying publisher.
For those who aren’t interested in becoming a career author or hiring a professional ghostwriter, there are viable alternatives to commercial publication. Check out the other book-publishing options under “Helping Writers.”